You might have seen some talk in the news of late regarding the possibility that the controversial U.S. president Donald Trump could be in the running for a Nobel Peace Prize. This chatter is the result of the fact that Trump is slated to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore to discuss, among other things, the denuclearization of North Korea. But could we really see such a controversial figure win a Nobel Prize?
For starters it’s worth examining the case for this idea in the first place. It’s very much true that Trump has arranged a meeting with the North Korean leader, which is an unprecedented step for an American president in modern times. It’s also true that as part of the lead up to this meeting, Kim Jong Un recently released three detained U.S. citizens (who are now safely back on U.S. soil).
However, both of these developments require further scrutiny to be properly understood. For instance, while this is an unprecedented meeting, some argue this is true because the U.S. wants it that way; it’s fair to say the biggest gift America could give North Korea is the appearance of legitimacy, which is just what Kim Jong Un gets by effectively leveraging a meeting with the president. Additionally, the release of detained Americans is not new. No fewer than 11 such individuals were returned to the U.S. during Barack Obama’s administration – Obama just never had the tendency to gloat about such accomplishments the way Trump does. (Additionally, Trump has publicly criticized Obama for not freeing these three individuals, yet two of them were not detained until after Trump assumed office.)
Additionally, it’s fair to be skeptical as to how much of a role Trump has really played in recent developments. At least as far as we know publicly, Trump’s main role in U.S.-North Korean relations has amounted to a series of provocative tweets (though new U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has met with Kim on a few occasions now). The real negotiations appear to have happened with South Korean president Moon Jae-in (who first stated that North Korea is willing to abandon its nuclear arsenal) and with Chinese president Xi Jinping, who has met with Kim directly already. It is perhaps for this reason that the early odds on the Nobel Peace Prize actually favor Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in, in a joint bid – though Trump is a close second place.
Finally, there are caveats with Trump’s personality and policy decisions past. While it’s impossible to know what’s in an individual’s heart, and fans of the U.S. president will argue the point, there are many who believe him to be racially biased. We have also seen him make offensive remarks in public (and heard about more in private) directed toward entire countries or ethnicities. He has mocked people with disabilities and hesitated to denounce white supremacists. This is not merely stated to criticize Trump – just to suggest that these are factors that could count against him in the Nobel Prize conversation. Though, as CNN reporter Jake Tapper pointed out on a recent podcast, the Nobel Prize is about an accomplishment rather than a career.
For that reason, it may well be that this ultimately hinges on the results, rather than the build up, to the Singapore summit. If the U.S. really can negotiate an end to North Korean nuclear ambitions, a Nobel Prize for Trump would become more likely. For now however it seems like a buzzy news story without much substance.